Pro-pot testimony dominates planning commission hearing

Photo by Laura Gjovaag.
Yakima County Planning Commission members (L-R) Ashley Garza, Nancy Charron, Zella West, Ed Burns and Gary Ekstedt listen to testimony at Wednesday night’s public hearing on the county’s proposed ban on the production, processing and retailing of marijuana.

YAKIMA – Nearly 50 people packed a Yakima County Planning Commission meeting last night for a public hearing on the county’s proposed ban on the production, processing and retailing of marijuana in unincorporated areas of the county.

Of the 18 members of the public who spoke at the hearing, 15 were opposed to the county’s ban. Many of them were people involved with medical marijuana, who noted that the proposed wording of the amendment to the county’s zoning ordinance would effectively ban medical marijuana as well as recreational.

Charlie Guist, a medical marijuana patient, listed the legally prescribed painkillers he used before trying marijuana.

“They made me catatonic,” he said. “I was sleeping all the time, but I wasn’t resting, I was just sleeping off the drugs.”

Guist said he lost a lot of weight and was unable to function while on the painkillers, prescribed after three major surgeries. He credits marijuana with helping him control his pain while still being able to live his life.

“I’m gaining weight again and I’m able to do everything I used to,” he said. “What we need is strict regulations, not a ban.”

Mitch Gordon, director of Medical Cannabis Solutions of Central Washington, said that the existing efforts to prevent youth from using marijuana are failing. He noted that although it’s been banned for years, the drug is rampant in schools.

He also said that drug cartels control the trade, and that fact has resulted in deaths that would be prevented if the state was in control. He argued that regulation would be more effective than an outright ban.

“Banning it is going with the status quo,” he said. “And the status quo has not worked.”

On the other side of the debate, Sheriff Ken Irwin spoke to the crowd. He dismissed the argument that regulation would stop the black market and help prevent access to children.

“The black market will just undercut the price,” he said. “They are already there, already have their channels. It will still be in the valley.”

Irwin said a ban is the responsible move and applauded county officials for considering it.

“I can’t put a happy face on this,” he said. “We’re sending a loud and clear message to kids that marijuana is OK.”

But most of the other speakers were adamant that the county allow this experiment in legalization to go forward. Juan Mendoza said the vote has already been taken of the people, and that recreational marijuana is now legal.

“God bless America, God bless the constitution,” he said. “We voted. This ban is a slap in the face.”

He said that he has been able to easily access marijuana since he was 14 years old.

“A ban is putting a façade up,” he said. “For 24 years the law couldn’t keep it out of my hands. Do you really think they will do any better in the future?”

Several people also cited the potential for economic growth in the valley. The hemp plant was compared to hops, and it was noted that the same equipment that is used to process hops can be used to extract the essences from marijuana, both THC and other compounds that may have medical uses.

One potential businessman asked the commission to consider how people in the area felt about growing hops right after prohibition. He said the production of marijuana would be a boon to the county, providing both jobs and a revenue stream.

Casey Miles, who identified himself as a fourth generation resident of Yakima County, urged the commissioners to research the issue themselves.

“I do not believe the status quo is a good idea,” he said.

The commission asked people to send any further comments to Yakima County by this coming Friday to be included when the planning commission members deliberate on the issue. The commission decided to meet on Wednesday, April 9, to make its decision.


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